Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics·REWIND WEDNESDAY

Canada's Sébastien Toutant inspires next generation following 2018 Olympic gold

Two years ago, as Canadian snowboarder Sébastien Toutant captured gold in the inaugural Olympic big air competition in Pyeongchang, halfway around the world, a teenage Nic Laframboise pulled into a Tim Hortons to watch from his cell phone.

Talented group of newcomers aims to replicate success of 'Seb Toots' in 2022

Canada's Sebastien Toutant poses with his gold medal after winning the inaugural Olympic big air competition in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Relive the action from the men's big air snowboarding final at Pyeongchang 2018 on Wednesday beginning at 9 a.m. ET in our latest instalment of Rewind Wednesday..

Two years ago, as Canadian snowboarder Sébastien Toutant was throwing down his biggest tricks to capture gold in the inaugural Olympic big air competition in Pyeongchang, South Korea — halfway around the world — two teenage snowboarders pulled into a Tim Hortons near the Quebec-Vermont border to watch the spectacle on their cell phones.

"We needed the WiFi," laughs Nic Laframboise, now 20 and a member of Canada Snowboard's national team.

Watching his idol "Seb Toots" that day, alongside friend and fellow Canadian rider Frank Jobin, made him realize his own Olympic dream was in sight.

"All the tricks they were doing, I wasn't close at that time, but I knew I could do those tricks on a trampoline and I could do the easier version of what they were doing," he said. "I knew it was possible in the future."

Perhaps as Canadian as a road-trip stop at Tim Hortons is the tradition of dominance in slopestyle and big air snowboarding in this country.

It could be Mark McMorris, the most decorated snowboarder in the history of the Winter X Games (along with two Olympic medals amid a litany of career-threatening injuries), or Max Parrot, the 2018 Olympic slopestyle silver medallist who beat cancer and came back to win big air at X Games this past February, or the stylish Toutant, another past X Games champion, who made history as the inaugural Olympic big air winner.

WATCH | Seb Toutant claims inaugural Olympic big air gold:

The Canadian soared to new heights and the win puts his name in the record books as Canada's 500th Olympic medal. 0:43

On the women's side, Laurie Blouin is a world champion, to go along with silver at the Olympics and X Games.

They've got the goods — the tricks, the flair, the cred — and they're all still near the top of their game. So how does the next generation of riders crack the Canadian team?

Canada Snowboard's slopestyle head coach Elliot Catton says given how rich in talent the program is, it's tough.

"There's no easy way to put it," he said this week from his home in Squamish, B.C. "We have some of the best in the world, just the standards of making the team are higher than in other disciplines or another sport.

"But it just comes down to the skills they can acquire, the tricks they can do and then being able to do those when it counts — performance on-demand in competitions. That's what it takes in any sport to be up at the top, but in particular to this team."

The next generation

Jasmine Baird wants to be on that Canadian team for Beijing 2022, but she has some work to do.

The 21-year-old national team member, originally from Mississauga, Ont., has been sidelined since last August after she tore the ACL in her left knee in Cardrona, New Zealand.

"For about the last 10 years, my goal has been to get to the 2022 Olympics," she said. "Being put on the sideline has definitely been a struggle mentally for me because everyone else I'll be competing against has been progressing these past 12 months, but I haven't."

Since reconstructive surgery, she's been rehabbing religiously, working on her strength, mobility and flexibility until she can get back on snow.

Before her injury, she was making noise on the international stage with her first World Cup podium in January 2019 (third in slopestyle at Seiser Alm, Italy) and as the top Canadian in her world championship debut in Park City, Utah (sixth in slopestyle, ahead of Olympians Brooke Voigt and Blouin).

Jasmine Baird, 21, of Mississauga, Ont., has been battling back from a 2019 torn ACL injury with the goal of claiming a spot in Beijing 2022. (Canada Snowboard)

She remembers watching the Pyeongchang big air finals and comparing her skills to what was being put down at the Olympics.

"Some of them I'd be like 'oh, I can do that trick' so it was a good feeling and confirmation that I was on the right path," she said. "It definitely made me feel confident about where I was at with my progression and my skills looking at 2022."

She says her biggest trick is a cab double 900, which is a switch double underflip. She learned it last season before getting injured and kindly walked this author through the move.

"You go in switch, so your unnatural way of riding, and you take off 90 degrees off the takeoff, then double backflip and continue with another 90 degree rotation to land regular, on your natural stance of riding. So it's a 900 degree trick by the end."

Just to put in context: the biggest trick in Pyeongchang was a 1080, done by gold medallist Anna Gasser of Austria. So to be in the mix with the top women in the world in big air, Baird hopes to add a 10 to her repertoire this season.

Laframboise, or "The Flying Raspberry" as he's called, put his name in the conversation for Beijing 2022 after finishing second overall in the World Cup big air points standings, which included his first victory in Modena, Italy.

"I did not expect it," he said from his home in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. "I knew I was capable of it, but being capable and actually doing it is two different things."

He said the biggest lessons he learned from his first full season on the senior team are performing under pressure and working on his slopestyle game.

Nic Laframboise's impressive run of performances earned him second overall in the World Cup big air points standings. A great achievement for the young rider in his first full season with the senior Canadian snowboarding team. (Canada Snowboard)

Coach Catton says that's something the younger riders learn as they grow in their careers.

"Big air is focusing on one jump at a time versus linking rail tricks and your jump tricks together," Catton said. "Nic showed in big air that he has the ability, he just needs to work on developing a little bit of a different skill-set in slopestyle. He's got it all there. It's just something that comes with time and experience. He's shown a lot of promise and we're really stoked for him on his results and his riding in the big air part of the season."

Another bonus for Laframboise this season was getting to pick the brains of champions like Toutant and Parrot, who he got to room with in Laax, Switzerland, and at the US Open in Vail, Colo., respectively.

"Every time I snowboard with Seb it's super fun. I think he has a great way of seeing snowboarding and making it fun. I like that attitude. And with Max, he's really focused and in the zone. I got to ask him about how he chills out before contests."

Every little edge counts on the road to Beijing, especially with the crop of veteran names and those coming up alongside Laframboise, like three-time Youth Olympic Games medallist Liam Brearly and double world junior medallist Will Buffey, among others.

Progression between Olympics

Beijing 2022 is less than two years away and this should be the year when riders start testing out new tricks and pushing the standards from snowboarding's past.

"I think the sport is constantly evolving and progressing. That's kind of the nature of it," Catton said. "Big tricks are great, but within snowboarding there's different grabs and spinning on a different axis that can help make things unique. So it's not just another 180 or another flip that's going to be the next big thing. There's a creative aspect."

WATCH | Toutant motivated to compete in Beijing 2022:

Olympic gold medallist Sébastien Toutant explains to Craig McMorris what drives him to compete and keeps him hungry to qualify for his third Games coming up in 2022. 2:45
Toutant won gold with a backside 1620 (turning backward on takeoff, four and a half rotations and flipping off-axis three times) and frontside triple-cork 1440 (going forward off the jump, four full rotations and three off-axis spins), both still huge tricks to this day.

Many of the top men on tour do 1620s and 1800s, while the top women are doing 1080s and some are doing 1260s.

One other thing the riders, coaches and fans are looking forward to in Beijing is the venue for big air. The brand-new Shougang Park permanent big air ramp, located on the western outskirts of China's capital city, was on display at the Air & Style event in early Dec. 2019.

The big air ramp at Shougang Park, seen above during the Air + Style competition in 2019, is a new venue which will feature in the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

As for which countries will dominate come Beijing 2022, in terms of big air and slopestyle, especially on the men's side, it's Canada, says Craig McMorris. The professional snowboarder has watched the sport over the past two Olympic Winter Games in his role as CBC's colour commentator.

"Just because of the depth. At every level, Canada has three or four guys who could be the No. 1 guy. The 16- and 17-year-olds, the 21- and 22-year-olds and the 25 and ups. Every country has some really good riders, but Canada has three or four great riders in every single age category.

"I feel like qualifying for the Olympics on Team Canada is harder almost than going to the Olympics itself. At the Olympics, you get one day. If you're on, you're on. But the qualification to even get on to Team Canada is all season, every season. I think that's one of the hardest things to do in sports, to be honest."

For the women in big air, McMorris says it's early, but watch out for the Japanese.

"They have three or four riders right now doing insane tricks and when they get a little more consistent, it's not outlandish to say they'd sweep the podium."

Relive the action from the dramatic final beginning on Wednesday at 9 a.m. ET on CBC and CBCSports.ca.

About the Author

Signa Butler is a host and play-by-play commentator with CBC Sports, where she has worked for nearly two decades. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this summer will be her 10th with the network.

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